You’ve probably heard of Chef Dave, the vegan chef who went viral sometime last year for his recipes in recreating popular Malaysian dishes without the use of animal products. He also equips interested followers with the techniques and skills to cook plant-based dishes virtually through D’Vegan Academy.
“After 1 year of content creating, I realised many in my audience really loved to cook and wished to learn more, but they didn’t have the proper channels to get equipped with the right cooking techniques and skills,” Chef Dave told Vulcan Post.
“I realised they always lacked confidence in technical cooking skills, so I decided to start this academy to encourage them, build their confidence while preparing them with all the necessary knowledge to be a better cook.”
His YouTube channel was started in December 2019 to document his journey transitioning to veganism. Today, it’s already reached 60.7k subscribers, and his public Facebook page has over 134k followers.
Sharpening His Skills
For starters, Chef Dave has always been targeting a mass audience. Being multilingual, his initial videos were conducted in both English and Mandarin.
It wasn’t until a layoff from his job as a Disney cruise line chef last March that he began uploading a new video a day to cope with his boredom during the MCO.
Despite his efforts, the channel only attracted about 1.9k subscribers within a month in 2020, a figure he considered low. Chef Dave told Astro Ulagam, “This thoroughly demotivated me. At the same time, I also saw the error of my ways.” And this oversight was not making his videos in Malay to target a larger local audience.
By quickly pivoting, he saw an influx of subscribers, albeit mostly foreign ones. To reach more Malaysians, he improvised and left a memo explaining his situation on the doorstep of everyone living in his condo.
It worked, and his subscriber count reached 10k. Overjoyed yet curious, he followed the cookie crumbs to discover that it was all thanks to a 17-year-old Malay girl’s tweet about his YouTube channel.
Chef Dave told Vulcan Post that the majority demographics of his subscribers consist of 62% females with 79.7% of them being Malaysians. The rest are citizens from Singapore, Indonesia, India, the US, Australia, Brunei, the Philippines, Canada, and others.
He even added that 90% of his followers on Facebook don’t even consider themselves vegan. “They simply want to get educated on veganism and learn about healthy plant-based food. Some have mentioned to me before that they love to just watch me cook because they find it entertaining,” said the chef.
It’s what his academy has set out to do, but Chef Dave’s personal entry into the vegan community wasn’t a smooth one either.
Challenging Personal Biases
Speaking to Vulcan Post, Chef Dave confessed that he didn’t even know the definition of the word “vegan” prior to adopting the diet. Plus, he’s had his own biases against vegetarians.
The chef used to mockingly retort that plants felt pain, especially to those advocating that it was wrong to eat animals who get hurt in the process.
After watching a documentary on climate change and animal cruelty, however, he came to terms with his flawed judgement, eventually adopting the lifestyle too.
“It was quite lonely when I first became vegan as I didn’t really have many vegan friends,” he shared. “At first I didn’t even know there was a vegan community in Malaysia. When I found vegan Facebook groups, I got excited and joined them to be a part of the community.”
Wanting to encourage more Malaysians to adopt the diet too, he made the barrier of entry to his classes an easy one. For just a lifetime fee of RM88, anyone is welcome to join the D’Vegan Academy.
Classes are conducted live, and videos will also be saved in the group for those who couldn’t attend to replay on their own time. If students need clarification on certain details, the chef would address their struggles through his weekly Q&A sessions.
The lessons are also meant to educate members on vegan cooking techniques, instead of the procedure for predetermined recipes. This way, students can adapt the skills learnt for their own recipes and share their dishes with fellow online classmates.
“In a year, there will be 52 classes where students will be learning different types of Malaysian cuisines comprising Orang Asli, Malay, Indian, Baba Nyonya, Sabah and Sarawakian cuisines,” commented Chef Dave.
D’Vegan Academy has 1,350 students to date and hopes to welcome about 1,000 more consisting of B40 women who struggle to afford it through the #TABUNGKASIH initiative. It’s where the public can sponsor the admission fee of a B40 individual by donating to the initiative.
To be eligible for it, beneficiaries just need to show proof of being Bantuan Sara Hidup recipients.
When asked about his future plans, Chef Dave said that isn’t looking to return to cooking on the seas. Instead, he’s set his eyes on growing the academy, which will be a long-term venture with a target to reach 10k members by the end of 2021.
The goal is to empower women out there to be equipped with proper cooking techniques. In order to do that, they will be able to venture into small home-based businesses and help their family health-wise, as they are now knowledgeable in cooking healthy meals and creating awareness among Malaysians.
Chef Dave, founder of D’Vegan Academy.
Featured Image Credit: Chef Dave, founder of D’Vegan Academy
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